It’s 8.30 on Friday morning and the 2012 Harrogate Autumn Flower Show is within an hour of opening its doors to the public.
Just in time for the Mayor, the bacon sandwiches appear, as does the rain. Now a bit of rain doesn’t usually bother me but after the soaking we got at the Spring Show and the abandoning of the Great Yorkshire Show, rain is about as welcome as a wasp at a picnic. Is it going to pour again? Are we going to have a wash-out? We get out the umbrellas but miraculously by the time we have reached the main hall the rain has vanished, the showground is looking immaculate and the sun has come out. Hurrah!
Hall A is my favourite bit of the Autumn Show. It is where the giant vegetables are laid out, and this year they are massive. There is a colossal marrow (nearly 120 lbs and looking like the Incredible Hulk with varicose veins), a titanic cabbage and a mammoth onion. There are also huge cucumbers that would make enough sandwiches to feed an army. The onion (grown by Peter Glazebrook) is 18lbs 1oz – 2 ounces bigger than last year and that means one thing: we have to hand over the £1,000 prize for breaking the world record! Parting with the prize money is such sweet sorrow.
We head for the Flower Halls and then we’re off to the Dahlias – monstrous in pink and yellow. I make a grand gesture and offer to buy a bunch for the Mayoress – but then find that I haven’t any cash and have to borrow the money from her!
Next to see a new rose, named after the late Geoffrey Smith, and making its first appearance at the Show. His daughter Caroline is joining us for lunch. Geoffrey came to the show shortly before he died. He was taken on a pre-lunch tour by Chris Smith, the chairman. So many people wanted to speak to Geoffrey that we thought we’d never get to eat that year.
Finally, to the Food Hall, where Martin Fish, the show director, is doing a masterclass with celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager. They are cooking duck. Rosemary explains that the way to get a crispy duck breast is to start it off, skin down in a cold pan sprinkled with salt. Now I never knew that. It’s called “foolproof cooking”. Things are going swimmingly until Rosemary adds what she tells us is powdered mustard to complete her creation. There is an overwhelming stench of curry powder – the Food Hall smells like Curry Mile and Rosemary has inadvertently created duck vindaloo. She pronounces it a triumph. The Mayor looks at his watch. Time to move back to the President’s Pavilion and coffee. It’s been a delight to show our first citizen and his wife around.
My association with the Flower Show began when I was Mayor in 2005. I fell in love with it. Anything that gives so much enjoyment to so many people is worth promoting. Not everyone realises that the Flower Shows bring tens of thousands of people into the Harrogate District every year. It is an important part of the local tourist economy. It’s run by a dedicated band of people – professionals and plenty of amateurs like me. In a funny way it’s like the Olympics. There are gold, silver and bronze medals and there are dozens of volunteers making it work. People who give up their time to give pleasure to others. They are often the same people that one sees doing other voluntary work in the district. People like Christine Stewart, from Starbeck in Bloom, who pops up at the Flower Show in the flower-arranging section.
At the end of the day, Chris and I meet with the professional exhibitors – the nurserymen, the garden equipment stands, the vendors of country clothing and the purveyors of pork pies! This is their opportunity to get any complaints off their collective chest. And thank goodness – there aren’t any to speak of. The sun has shone and the crowds have come in their thousands and have taken home roses, begonias, fuchsias, agapanthus – you name it.
I’m taking home a sack full of bulbs. Husband isn’t keen. He is fussing about the work involved in planting them. But I’m good at organising difficult people and I’ll have no problem organising him!